The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking COVID-19 data from four states to determine whether they violated the civil rights of nursing home residents when they required facilities to admit patients with the virus. Nursing homes are filled with elderly and immune-compromised individuals who are at greater risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, complications and death.
The states in question include New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan — all states with Democratic governors, who question if the inquiry has political motives.
Both Michigan and Pennsylvania are swing states in the upcoming presidential election. All four states are among the hardest hit by the pandemic and have reported some of the highest nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths. However, the DOJ didn’t request similar data from other states with similarly high COVID-19 nursing home rates, like Texas, Florida and California.
“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division.
A spokeswoman for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer issued a statement saying, “We will review this letter and respond as appropriate. However, Americans would be better served if the Trump administration stopped the partisan games and focused on delivering a real plan to defeat COVID-19.”
Nursing homes were an early bellwether as they have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) took early measures to require infection and control practices at facilities across the country and managed to slow the spread by late June. But as of late July, infection and death rates have spiked again, signaling, “We could have a more significant crisis on our hands,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma told nursing home facility operators during a mid-August conference call.
Alyssa Baskam, a lawyer in our Atlanta office, heads Beasley Allen’s Nursing Home Litigation Team, together with Tucker Osborne in our Montgomery office. In order to properly handle nursing home litigation, lawyers and support staff must have specific experience in this type of case.